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New gTLD Availability Inching Closer to Reality

As many in the ICANN community prepare to depart for the sunny beaches of Cancun, Mexico, it appears the ICANN 76 meeting could be significant when it comes to the long-awaited next application window for gTLDs.

It’s been over 11 years since applicants were last able to apply for a gTLD (and some of those strings are still launching into the marketplace all these years later), and the community work to review that initial process has never really stopped. That review work was transmitted to the ICANN Board over 2 years ago, and many of the recommendations included in that final report could be approved by the Board in the coming weeks.

Does this mean applications for new gTLDs are imminent and will happen in months? No. While the ICANN 76 outcomes will be an important development, we are still over a year away (at least) from applicants actually being able to submit for their desired gTLD.

The Board has highlighted a number of issues it feels need to be further explored and ironed out between itself, the GNSO Council and the Governmental Advisory Committee. As the community continues to work on those, it’s expected the remaining recommendations can move forward, and the program can start to ramp up in anticipation of applications being accepted.

Much of this feels very similar to the climate before the 2012 gTLD round opened up, with many companies closely following the development of the program and weighing whether or not applying for a gTLD made sense for them. With that initial round, there was an extraordinary level of fear and uncertainty about exactly what was going to happen when applications were accepted.

Brand holders wondered if savvy (and well-funded) domain investors would look to apply for well-known brand strings. What about strings that multiple parties had legitimate rights to? For the most part, a lot of those fears ended up not being realized, and most of the .brand applications were on behalf of the legitimate brand owner (or multiple owners in some cases).

Most of the fear that existed over 10 years ago doesn’t seem to be as present now, but that doesn’t mean companies shouldn’t continue to pay attention to this space. Many brand owners who secured their .brand gTLD in the last round have successfully utilized the program in myriad ways. The Brand Registry Group (https://www.brandregistrygroup.org/) does a great job of highlighting many of the efforts in this area.

As the program continues to move forward, companies need to have meaningful internal discussions about whether applying for, and operating, a piece of internet infrastructure makes sense for them. With online security and the sensitivity around customer data even greater today than it was in 2012, owning a gTLD might be a good way for companies to strengthen their overall technology posture.

Based on my experience from speaking to companies about this subject, there is a general lack of awareness and understanding around the opportunity the gTLD program presents. Many people are familiar with the relatively simple act of registering a domain name, but it’s another story altogether when looking at entering into a contractual agreement to operate a gTLD as part of the global internet infrastructure.

That internal education effort is not trivial, and companies that are looking at this opportunity should start to think about how to gather relevant stakeholders to participate in the conversation as the program moves forward. Ultimately, it is in the best interest of every company to make an informed decision regarding this topic.

While ICANN 76 won’t end on March 16th with the ability to submit a gTLD application, it does appear that it will be an important milestone as we march toward availability of gTLDs once again in the not too distant future.

By Matt Serlin, Domain Name Industry Veteran and Advisor

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Who owns a gTLD? John Poole  –  Mar 8, 2023 6:33 PM

Matt, you wrote above: “... owning a gTLD might be a good way for companies to strengthen their overall technology posture.” Really? That’s the kind of statement that got UNR Corp. in trouble and fouled-up the assignment of .HIPHOP, ask Jeff Neuman. As John Jeffrey, ICANN General Counsel, and Theresa Swinehart, ICANN SVP, Global Domains and Strategy, jointly wrote: “... marketing materials and other communications associated with the UNR auctions indicated that the potential assignees would receive ownership rights, possibly denoting some form of property right or interest ... These assertions raised questions and concerns during our review, particularly with regard to ownership, as TLDs are not considered property ...” see https://www.icann.org/en/blogs/details/relying-on-icann-community-developed-processes-for-a-safe-secure-internet-5-1-2022-en . You also might want to read RFC 1591, written by Jon Postel in 1994, https://www.rfc-editor.org/rfc/rfc1591 . I am well aware that this false notion of “gTLD ownership” has spread far and wide, and has also been used by countless grifters in the domain name industry to seduce naive customers and clientele, which is why I was so surprised to read a respected “Domain Name Industry Veteran and Advisor,” such as yourself, mistakenly repeat this claim.

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